OLPC Discovers Economic Reality; Cuts Staff
from the but-the-dream-is-closer... dept
We’ve certainly been somewhat harsh on Nicholas Negroponte’s OLPC program in the past — not because we don’t like the idea of helping underprivileged kids building technology skills, but because of the way Negroponte has run the project from the beginning. He’s acted as if he were the only one who should be working towards that goal and any competition was seen as a betrayal. Also, he took a very top down Negroponte-knows-best approach to building the laptop, which has led to significant problems within the team and with the product not living up to expectations — showing once again that ideas are easy, it’s the execution that’s difficult, and if you limit the execution to just one company, you’re cutting off a lot of the opportunity.
So, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that OLPC is now cutting its workforce in half, and slashing salaries for remaining employees. Negroponte blames the economy, but that seems like an especially weak excuse, given just how strongly small, inexpensive mini-laptops (netbooks) are selling these days. Clearly, there’s tremendous demand out there for super cheap, small laptops. The problem is that Negroponte decided from the beginning that his product was only for kids in developing countries, and left a massive market underserved (the rather weak give one, get one program was hardly serving the market).
But, again, the point is clear: the overall market is doing a rather amazing job serving the market. They’re providing all sorts of very cheap mini laptops at price points even below what the OLPC is going for. No, most netbooks don’t have some of the bells and whistles of the OLPC that help it survive a rough environment, but it seems rather likely that used netbooks and newer cheaper netbooks will find their way into developing countries soon enough as well — just as second hand mobile phones have made it. So, in the end, Negroponte’s original vision may get served, but it will get served by the market and competition, rather than his own grand master plan.